The Mind That Spins in Time

Lim Jien Hwee, CCST02 CCST02, "Telling Stories in Cyberspace," University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore

The human brain never works in a linear fashion. We are always thinking ahead to what could happen in the future, thinking back, and contemplating what has already happened, or simply just thinking, well, this beer tastes good at this very moment. (After the intense and mind absorbing reading of Afternoon I feel inclined to treat myself to one).

Perhaps an example of hypertext is the way in which a brain works in terms of the layering of time. A novel like Mo Yan's The Red Sorghum, for example, employs the use of a narrator who narrates not in a chronological order but at random, spanning three generations in China. Layers upon layers are introduced, sliced off and reworked in the characterization and plot. One could thus argue that The Red Sorghum displays hypertextuality.

Afternoon goes one-step better because the narrative engages the reader in a matter of choice. We start off in winter, a wonderful metaphor for the cold and bleak narrative that ensues. Here we are given a chance to click 'yes' and move in a linear fashion or click any of the words and see where we go. In that way, the reader is empowered in that he can negotiate the story in accordance to his preferences.

For example, we are introduced to some characters such as the narrator himself, Wert, Nausicaa, Lolly, Andrew and Lisa. How the characters are related is not immediately known, but the layers of the plot are slowly peeled off as we navigate Afternoon in a linear fashion. We find that Wert is married to Lolly, the main narrator is involved with Nausticaa, is divorced from his Lisa, and has a son Andrew etc. The depth of each character is developed when we click on his or her name. Of course, no one character stands alone and when we click on one character, we see him through the narrator's (not necessarily the main narrator though) or through his relationship with the other characters. The characterization is given width and depth in this hypertextual form.

Not only does Afternoon display hypertextuality not possible in a print novel, but it is highly comparable to any acclaimed novel in terms of its literary value. The metaphors are vivid and provocative, the language flows like a well-oiled car over a smoothened road, and the characters have that level of depth that makes them intriguing.

Sometimes the reader will stumble upon something factual, like the description of orchids, or upon a poem or quote that contributes to the reading pleasure of the reader and also to the aesthetic and thematic concerns of the narrative. One of these 'anecdotes' deliberately put in by Joyce that caught my eye is:

"There is a form of writing which can affect through the senses directly without first appealing to the intellect. In this it acts more like our life experiences, which enter the body directly before we are able to dissect them." -- from "Music"

This passage very aptly describes Afternoon as we are delivered these narratives hard and fast and we have to react to them immediately before our intellect comes into the fray. Not that we are stupid readers who cannot discern what we are reading, but the way Afternoon is crafted we find ourselves using our senses to respond to it in terms of the emotions of the characters before we take a step back, perhaps subconsciously, to posit and ponder as we try to make sense of this web while at the same time, appreciating the aesthetics that this work creates.

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web